David Brody, ADL Lobbyist, Fought for Civil Rights and Against Boycott

David Brody, an Anti-Defamation League lobbyist who for four decades helped lead the fight in Washington for Jewish interests and civil rights, has died. His widow, Beatrice, told JTA that Brody died Saturday in Washington of unknown causes. He was 88.

As chief lobbyist at the ADL from 1965 through 1989, Brody nurtured relationships with legislators from both parties and earned the affectionate title “101st senator” because of his ubiquity on Capitol Hill. Brody’s tenure dwarfed the careers of even the longest-serving politicians. He started with the ADL — then known as ADL-B’nai B’rith — in 1949, and ultimately rose to hold the top Washington post.

Brody is best known for his stewardship of civil rights initiatives and anti-boycott legislation that diminished the impact of the Arab boycott of Israel, but it was his private persona that distinguished and endeared him, said his ADL successor, Jess Hordes. “It was not about going through the motions for doing things; it was about following a set of principles to do a job and working to see that they got implemented,” Hordes said.

A consummate lobbyist, the gregarious Brody developed networks of contacts and close friends. “A pro’s pro,” is how Ken Jacobson, the ADL’s associate national director, described him. Friendly with much of the Washington crowd, Brody hosted diplomats and key figures at dinner parties in his Washington home, Jacobson said.

His ability to forge friendships across party lines did not stop Brody from staking out unpopular positions. His support for civil rights was unflinching long before the watershed procession of legislation in the 1960s finally shifted the status quo to his side. “He was with the issues early on and he stayed with them long after others did,” Jacobson said. “He had a long and consistent record on civil rights.”

Brody was among dozens of hostages held for 39 hours when fanatical Muslims seized the B’nai B’rith building in 1977. According to the Washington Post, Brody — released on the day of his 34th wedding anniversary — went home, napped and was ready by evening for his anniversary dinner. Brody is survived by his wife, Beatrice, of Washington; son Michael Brody, of Reston, Va.; daughter Ann Brody, of Port Jefferson, N.Y.; a brother, and three grandsons.